Tuesday, 11 December 2007

What is a Crime?

As I mentioned a week or two ago in the post on alienation an accurate definition of crime is a controversial thing. Indeed, criminology has been wracked by this problem most of it's existence. I'm going to try and put forward some of my thoughts on this, but first i'll explain why there has been such controversy.

To many what a crime is is simply something thats illegal in the statute books, which at first sight seems a perfectly workable definition. Except it isn't, as in that view a crime would have to be always on the statute books to always be a crime. But there are lost of exceptions to this. There are many things which have been criminalised or decriminalised - which category (crime or non-crime) should they fight into? Such things include drug use, homosexuality, abortion, rape within marriage and a whole host of things.

So how and why are things criminalised?

As I mentioned in the draft principles of marxist criminology, what is criminalised is defined by the ruling class and put through by parliament, it is also interpreted through their court system and enforced by their state. So to an extent it is Marx's old phrase that the ruling ideas are those of it's ruling class (or what is a crime is determined by the ruling class).

It isn't quite that simple as pressure from the population at large, particularly the working class can occur and force laws to be not passed, watered down or not enforced. (or in some cases passed or removed)

However, most people don't talk about crime in terms of everything on the criminal statute books (there are things on there most people don't realise). In fact the usually mean what i'll term 'popular crime', things mostly covered by violent, property, sexual and drug crime. But that isn't all that's illegal, what about corporate crime, state crime, environmental crime, war crime, transnational crime etc.

And what about anti-social behaviour, is that a crime? Under the current system in the UK you can be convicted of an ASBO and by defaulting on an order given to you subject to criminal courts, but they aren't crimes of themselves.

Also much drug crime and things like drinking and driving don't cause harm in themselves yet are defined as crime (in a preventative way) as a method of attempting to stop people from committing more serious crimes.

Anyway, this isn't a fully rounded out post, more just thoughts that i've dredged up over the last few weeks. For me, i think crime is a dialectical entity, always in flux and changing, put we should put forward also what we think a socialist world would see as crime and fight for those to be tackled in a transitional way. (i hope that made sense). I'll come back to this topic in further posts anyway, but i'd really appreciate people's thoughts on this.


blackstone said...

I concur. There will be alot of debate in a socialist society on laws and what is and isn't a crime.

Have you a vision of how people will be tried for crimes? Will they defend themselves or have a lawyer? If a lawyer knows his client is guilty, should he still defend them?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I don't think it is necessarily the job of socialists to speculate on the future too much (ie we should have a vaguish idea, but to work out a completely structured account is a waste of time as history tends to render these useless). What we should do instead is look at what has been thrown up by revolutionary movements in the past (kinda like marx did - the preface to the communist manifesto after the paris commune bares testament to this). I've only managed to discuss this once so far and it was rather briefly, but see thsi post http://leftwingcriminologist.blogspot.com/2007/10/dual-power-and-criminal-justice-system.html